For years, development teams have been replacing traditional data centers with cloud-hosted infrastructure. But adopting a single cloud provider to host all applications and data can put your business at risk. To reduce these risks, some organizations are implementing a strategy that hosts resources across multiple cloud providers. This strategy could entail using purely consumer-based providers (such as AWS, Azure, and GCP), using different clouds within the same provider, or including a mix of private cloud providers.
This article explores some of the drivers for adopting a multicloud strategy, the benefits, and the downsides. You will also get some advice about the best ways to structure environments when working across cloud providers.
What is a multicloud strategy?
A multicloud strategy goes beyond just having workloads in more than one cloud provider. A proper multicloud strategy means being specific about designing and deploying resources, including planning the approach taken when deploying services across more than one provider. What is important is the intent and requirements when using multiple cloud providers.
Common architectures for multicloud services include:
- Containerized applications or services deployed across providers and behind load balancers to enable an “always-on” environment.
- Services grouped by business function, distributed across cloud providers, and with redundant cold start components for each.
- Best-of-breed or technology-aligned application or service components for each cloud provider.
These architectures require some strategic thinking to make sure the patterns are implemented consistently and align with the business goals. A multicloud strategy must also align with the architecture and design of impacted applications and services.
Benefits of multicloud strategy
There are many reasons why organizations adopt a multicloud strategy. Most organizations move to a multicloud environment to mitigate the risks of a single cloud environment. Other teams may want to benefit from the complementary strengths and technology stacks different providers offer. Depending on these drivers, there are three significant benefits of adopting a multicloud strategy:
Many organizations service customers worldwide who require applications and systems to be running 24 hours a day. Having a resilient environment is critical for preventing service interruptions, including cloud vendor environment outages. Even the biggest cloud providers have outages, like Google, Azure, and AWS.
Making sure that critical services do not go down with the cloud is a significant benefit of a multicloud approach. Sometimes even having cold backup services on a different cloud provider can provide short-term help so that organizations can implement longer-term fixes. For example, having web application nodes spread across multiple vendor clouds can keep your service up and running — with reduced resources — if a vendor experiences an outage. Even having services deployed to a secondary cloud that remains idle but that you can switch on when its needed provides a simple, quick fix until issues are resolved.
When first moving workloads into a cloud environment, most organizations settle on the single provider that best meets most of their criteria. However, as these workloads increase, so does reliance on that single vendor’s services. Vendors change their strategy, services, agreements, and pricing models quite frequently. Being locked into a single vendor can mean misalignment, increased cost, missing out on better offerings, or forced updates to applications and services. It is easy to move and create workloads in a cloud environment, but it can be difficult and costly to move them without careful planning.
Adopting a multicloud strategy to architect applications and services minimizes the amount of vendor lock-in you are subject to. Using the same technology stack and features like containerization makes it easy to design and deploy the same services across cloud environments effectively. It also enables organizations to choose the best-specialized cloud services where they offer significant benefits.
Still, it is vital to ensure that the options selected are flexible when using a multicloud strategy. For example, Azure Functions is an event-driven, serverless computing platform. Your team can use it to build and deploy services without needing to size and scale to meet demand. Your team can also deploy these functions into containers and host them outside of Azure, providing options for changing services if you need to.
Many organizations have specific requirements for IT systems compliance. These compliance requirements can cover data privacy or sovereignty concerns, including disaster recovery and mitigation specifications.
By adopting a multicloud strategy in combination with assessing services and data for compliance requirements, your organization can establish specific environments or architectures for critical components. Sensitive data sets, such as personally identifiable or financial information, may need to be stored within a hardened private cloud environment. Data security requirements allow applications hosted in public cloud environments to query them in specific ways.
Drawbacks of multicloud
While there are some key benefits of adopting a multicloud strategy, you should be aware of two potential drawbacks: increased cost and environmental complexity. These drawbacks can be overcome and offset by the benefits described earlier in this article, but they can also become issues if you don’t prepare for them.
Adopting a single cloud provider can add a significant learning curve for staff, given the breadth of services available. Adopting a second cloud provider can potentially double the number of services, other multicloud systems, and processes that IT staff must learn. Ensuring that people are knowledgeable across a multicloud environment can be challenging for organizations with resource constraints. These sorts of environments often require a dedicated platform engineering or cross-functional IT operations group to secure, manage, and optimize multiple deployment targets and technology stacks with a wide variety of integrations.
The second potential blocker to adopting a multicloud strategy is the overall cost. Even if current resources are essentially split between providers, the additional traffic and management layer between environments will add some costs. Failing to understand the cost differences between providers, especially when landing on a technology stack, can also lead to unnecessary expense.
Be sure to add the cost to hire or train staff to cover both environments when calculating the price of switching to multicloud. Also, be sure to consider the cost of unused resources that can occur when the environment’s complexity hampers the visibility of all resources. Multicloud adoption can drive some cost savings, but this is not usually the primary reason for adopting a multicloud strategy.
Should you adopt a multicloud strategy?
When is the right time to consider adopting a multicloud strategy? Because of the added complexity and cost of adopting a multicloud strategy, there should be a significant business driver that its benefits would solve. Without this legitimate, current business need, your organization could take on complexity and cost without any significant advantage.
Examples of these business drivers include:
- A significant risk or cost associated with non-compliance to industry or legal concerns
- A need for greater flexibility in tools, services, and technologies to increase development speed
- A desire to decrease downtime for a containerized suite of services spread across multiple vendors
These examples still require a significant uplift and solid technical resources to ensure that your team can effectively adopt this strategy.
How to manage multiple cloud deployments in a CI/CD workflow
Adopting a multicloud strategy requires consistently deploying applications and services across several different environments. Here are some tips for setting up CI/CD workflows to get the best results from a multicloud environment:
- Develop a deployment strategy that all teams follow with standardized pipelines as much as possible.
- Ensure deployments are as modular as possible to swap components as teams deploy them to different vendors.
- Adopt infrastructure-as-code templates that provide multicloud support, such as Terraform and Ansible, to ensure minimal infrastructure reconfiguration.
- Use release management tooling to ensure the right builds reach suitable environments.
Adopting multiple cloud vendors offers several benefits but can be quite challenging and costly. This complexity and cost can quickly spiral out of control without a clearly-defined strategy. Being intentional about multicloud adoption and objectively assessing your team’s technical maturity is key to ensuring success.
CircleCI supports building the CI/CD pipelines that deploy applications and services to multiple clouds. Sign up for a free account today and learn more about how to prepare your pipelines for multicloud environments.